Hanna Björn talks to Nordic Watchlist about her character Maria in Netflix’s wild series ‘Clark’

If you haven’t caught Swedish TV Series ‘Clark’ on Netflix yet then you are really are missing out on an absolute hidden gem and we implore you to give this one a watch if you enjoy something quite out there and radical. The cast is truly fantastic and lead by the excellent Bill Skarsgård, who plays the lead role of Clark Olofsson.

Joining him is Swedish actress and singer Hanna Björn who plays a lead role in the series as one of Clark’s famous lovers, Maria. This is Hanna’s breakout role and the star puts in a fantastic performance.

Nordic Watchlist got to speak to the actress about the series.

Photo Credit: Olivia Arte

How familiar were you with Clark Olofsson before being cast in the series?

I didn’t know that much about the person Clark Olofsson before being casted, but I was well aware about Norrmalmstorgsdramat. For Sweden, I think it’s that kind of serious event , trauma even, that people who lived back then, in Stockholm at least which my parents did, can tell you where they were when they found out and how it was the first time Swedish television aired non stop (also because the king was dying).

Clark, I remember I couldn’t really get it together: How could he be the one getting so much attention? For me he just seemed to be one of these narcissistic men blown up by his own remarkable-ness, who lives on old merits and loves to tell you about the golden days. The stories he tells you could be true, that’s not really the point.  

Later when I got the part and started researching I figured I was kind of right? It’s like he levitates two meters up from everyone else in his own bubble where he is the king. And trust me, there are more Clark Olofssons out there. That’s why I loved being a part of telling this story.   

Tell us about your character in the series?

My character Maria is a young idealist, very kind and she really believes that there is good in everyone if you just give them the chance.

She falls hard for Clark and after that she’ll do anything for him and everything to show the world their love and how good he can be. The longer they’re together, the more worried she becomes, because it gets harder and harder for her to justify his greatness. But a part of her I think loves that Clark takes her across Europe, the adventures and things that people only could’ve dreamt of until then with Cold War and Vietnam war, just to name a few things going on in the world. And there’s no doubt that there’s some kind of momager tendencies in her, the classical ”I can fix you” thing going on.   

 She’s also a child of her time with free love, no human owns another human, a time when people felt that they were done talking and ready to take action like Paris ’68. Maria really wanted to make a change, but being a young woman at that time. Have you seen ”I am Curious – Yellow” for example? One way to look at Maria is her planting her ideas in Clark, who already has a voice, is mansplained and has no limits. I think that made it easier for me to really fight for her, and for those who do not have a voice. 

Kaj Robert (Björn Gustafsson), Clark (Bill Skarsgård), and Maria (Hanna Björn)

Your character is incredibly loyal to the famed gangster – what were your personal thoughts on Maria? 

The first thing that struck me was – everyone is going to think that she’s the most naïve person ever. How can I challenge that? The more I looked into her, started researching about the time between especially 1968-1975 the more the character took form. Reading old articles about Clark and Maria together, seeing pictures of them, and all those other women who stated that ”Clark Always come back to me”, those are real people with real feelings who could’ve been your mom or grandma. And yes, you can call them naïve and that you’d NEVER fallen for a person like Clark. Yet you have to remember that he is a narcissist, manipulating and gaslighting her and so many others, the whole nation even.   

Another thing that was challenging for me was how to justify Maria letting Clark disappear, be a notorious cheater and constantly lying to her. Does she know? Sometimes I just decided ”She knows but she’s so tired of being lied to/she’s too in love and lets him get away with it”. I started thinking about the free love thing, listening and reading ”Jösses Flickor” and so much other music and literature of that time where those ideas circulated. Maybe Maria thinks ”Everyone want’s to lock him up, put a ring on him and tell him what to do, but that only makes him run away even more. So I’m not gonna do that”. She has more integrity than you might think at first glance.   

Also that feeling that ”this has been going on for such a long time now, I can’t loose now when I’ve betted everything on one horse. The wrong one but he’s mine”.   

How was it working with the likes of Bill Skarsgård and Jonas Åkerlund?

I was actually quite nervous about meeting Jonas the first time between call-backs, he seemed so heavy metal and where I am just a choirgirl who can sing Ave Maria by seven different composers. Yet he really is the sweetest person, he genuinely sees people which is so inspiring and admirable. Walking into, and becoming a part of his creations.

What can I say? He’s not very easily impressed and his resume consists of so many interesting experiences. But when it all comes down to it, he’s a hard working person which made me relax. Because if there’s something I’m good at, it’s working.   

If Jonas can seem a little laidback, Bill was on the other hand the engine of the production. We weren’t sure that Sweden would get the tone, there’s a tendency to only rely on ”diskbänksrealism” (badly translated ”kitchen sink realism”) and our heroes like Bergman and Norén.

Voice acting like Gary Oldmans – no one does things like that in Swedish productions – but wow did Bill pull that off. He threw himself out there and I think that he’s both brave and talented. I also think my Maria worked really well with his Clark and it was great that we could rehearse before the shooting started, we discussed about how this wasn’t going to be just another relationship that Clark fucked up. There was even this one scene that we rewrote together because it didn’t seem right at first, unfair even to both Clark and Maria, remembering that they’re actually real persons. I think the result came out really well.     

On set with director Jonas Åkerlund (pictured left)

Can you tell us any funny stories from filming the series?

Every day was kind of an adventure so its hard to choose between all stories… but it really was a dream come true being a part of that kind of big production where everyone was so talented, focused and giving their all.

We filmed in a totally locked down Vilnius for our first months and we actually made this magical world together, despite isolation, testing and fear of getting sick. I’m so proud and thankful.   

 One thing I do remember was being so nervous before the dance-scenes because it’s the first focus on Maria. I said to myself: ”Okay but you have done so much corporeal mime/body improv in school, you can do this. It’s just Jonas and Bill and they love you”.

Then I came on set and the room (which was an actual prison-church) was filled with these inmate-extras, who were directed just to talk with each other not caring about what we did on stage. So I was like, okay this is like a real dance performance, I have to win the audience and I can’t just go home now. But then we danced and when we were done with our first take, the whole room stood up and clapped! I guess they felt my nervousness. That made me so happy and it was so much easier for me to relax into that scene.   

What is coming up next for you?

I’ve been doing a lot of voice acting and singing lately, but I would love to film as much and as soon as possible. You always want to move on to the next project and keep on going, patience is a virtue!

What was the last book you read, the album you listened to, and film/TV series you watched?

Latest book I read was Записки из мёртвого дома (House of the Dead) training my Russian. I love Dostojevskij, he’s on point but not too sentimental. Altering that I’m reading Euphoria by Elin Cullhed, a novel about Sylvia Plath. Latest movie was The Father with the one and only Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman.   

Latest album? I kind of only listen to classical music, down in a Max Bruch period right now. I also saw Robert Schumann’s piano concerto being performed by Leif-Ove Andsnes some weeks ago. His recordings of Sibelius is an album I can listen to everyday.  

Watch all 6 episodes of Clark now over on Netflix!

Interview by Alex Minnis

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